What’s Screening: December 16 – 22

Remember that cute Christmas movie from 2003 called Elf? It’s playing in five different theaters this week, some of them free. Overall this week, the theaters are giving us movies to make us merry. There’s two of the most beloved family movies of all time, and more of Buster Keaton. And if you want to get away from the yuletide, you can watch a couple of films that will throw slush onto the holiday season.

Festivals & Series

Theater Birthday

Thursday is the 10th anniversary of New Parkway‘s opening. For that day, tickets are only one dollar.

Promising events

Elf (2003), several theaters

I saw this holiday comedy with my kids long before they finished college. I remember enjoying it, but I don’t remember it enough to write a review. Here’s where it’s playing:
֍ Sebastopol, Saturday & Sunday, 11:00am, Free!
֍ Cerrito, Saturday & Sunday, 11:00am, Free!
֍ Elmwood, Saturday & Sunday, 11:00am, Free!
֍ Alameda, through the week, 1:15pm,
֍ New Parkway, Friday & 3:45pm
֍ New Parkway, Saturday, 3:45pm & 7:45pm
֍ New Parkway, Sunday, 2:00pm
֍ New Parkway, Tuesday, 7:20pm
֍ New Parkway, Wednesday, 2:50pm
֍ New Parkway, Thursday, 1:00pm, $1
֍ New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30pm, $1

Theatrical revivals

A+ It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), New Parkway, Thursday, 2:50pm. Also in various theaters with different dates and times.

There’s a rarely-acknowledged dark side to Frank Capra’s feel-good fable. George Bailey (James Stewart) saves his town and earns the love of his neighbors, but only at the expense of his own dreams and desires. Trapped, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, George needs only one new disaster to turn his thoughts to suicide. The extremely happy (some would say excessively sappy) ending works because George, whose main problems remain unsolved, has suffered so much to earn it. Read my A+ appreciation.

A Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), BAMPFA, Sunday, 5:00pm

One of Buster Keaton’s best, both as a performer and an auteur. Keaton plays the urbane and somewhat effete son of the very macho Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrence). A shipload of laughs and amazing stunts, seamlessly integrated into a very good story about a rough father and his not-so-rough son. I should warn you that there’s one racist joke you’ll have to discuss with your children. Dana Stevens will introduce the film, and Judith Rosenberg will accompany the film on the piano. Part of the series Camera Man: Buster Keaton.

A Solaris (1972) original, Russian, version, Roxie
֍ Sunday, 5:00pm
֍ Tuesday, 7:10pm

The plot could easily work as a Star Trek episode: The protagonist visits a troubled space station orbiting a strange, ocean-covered planet. The ocean appears to be sentient, and it’s playing tricks on the minds of the human visitors, driving them mad. But no Star Trek episode could feel so bleak and hopeless, and no normal space station would look like the morning after a frat party. Andrei Tarkovsky’s adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel just might be the most thoughtful science fiction film ever made. Read my 2015 report.

A- The Cameraman (1928), BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00pm

Buster Keaton’s first film at MGM, his first without creative control, and his penultimate silent, comes close to being among his best. This story of a tintype photographer trying to break into the movie newsreel business provides plentiful opportunities for befuddlement, extended comic routines, and Keaton’s patented pratfalls. And yet, you can tell that something is different. The story is very much MGM. Introduction by film historian Dana Stevens, and piano accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg. Part of the series Camera Man: Buster Keaton.

B+ Family Matinee: Buster Keaton’s Marvelous Houses, BAMPFA, Sunday, 3:00pm

Here’s a selection of three Buster Keaton shorts. In One Week, newlyweds get a very bad start in their marriage. It’s a 20-minute masterpiece. The Scarecrow and The Electric House aren’t in the same range, but they too are very, very funny. Stevens will introduce the movies. The shorts will be shown with recorded music. Part of the series Camera Man: Buster Keaton.

B+ The Wizard of Oz (1939),  New Parkway, Sunday, 3:00

It’s an entertaining movie, with clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and two great performances: Judy Garland’s Dorothy and Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion. When you think about it, the movie is pretty strange for a children’s flick. A seemingly nice “wizard” (Frank Morgan) sends a child to murder a powerful psychopath. And when Dorothy finally gets home, her dog is still going to be put to sleep. A Party at the Parkway.

B Bad Santa (2003), Balboa, Saturday, 9:30pm

This R-rated Xmas movie – a riff on How the Grinch Stole Christmas – is a very dark comedy that goes wrong when it tries to be sentimental. Billy Bob Thornton plays a deeply alcoholic department store Santa with tendencies to swear at the children and pee on his chair. That’s just a front. He and his sidekick (little person Tony Cox) rob from the stores they work at. I’m not talking about pilfering – this is safe cracking. Things change when the drunk Santa falls in with a troubled and bullied boy. At first, Santa plans to rob the kid’s house, soon he becomes a father figure to a kid without other parental figures. The film also uses classical music brilliantly for comic effect in ways I have never heard before.

D+ Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Balboa, 70:30pm

Stanley Kubrick’s last film is one of his worst. It starts well, when an attractive and wealthy couple (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman – a real-life couple back then) flirt with others at a party. Back at home, the couple discuss their adulterous sexual fantasies – mostly hers. But then the movie goes off the rails. The husband wanders through New York late at night with hundreds of dollars in cash. And that’s not the only stupid thing he does throughout the night. The famous orgy scene is so stupid that I was tempted to do some MST3K-like riffing. A bad ending of a great career.

Frequently-revived classics